Music has a tendency to take itself a bit seriously; full of moodiness, protest and angst. On the rare occasion that it does have a bit of a giggle, it tends to be in the guise of complete parody; Spinal Tap or Tenacious D, comedy actors indulging their rock star ambition. So, it’s important that a band like The Presidents of the United States of America can still pull a crowd – albeit a relatively modest one.
The fact that the inside of the building is almost as cold as it is outside acts as testament to how many tickets are destined for the recycling.
The clientele are a blend of hipsters, slightly-too-old-to-be-out-on-a-school-night types and rockers of the mid-90’s who would know The Presidents as the Tenacious D of the time against a landscape where Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth were kings.
The spoken word, comedy introduction – thoughtfully adapted for the UK audiences with quips about how The Wombles couldn’t make it tonight – halts the crowds conversations, bringing the first smiles and laughs of the evening.
Wielding just five strings between them, lead singer and two-string bass player Chris Ballew and three-string guitarist Andrew McKeag are all smiles as they get things rolling with a lively rendition of ‘Kick Out the Jams’ which manages to coax a small ‘pit’ into existence at the front of the crowd; it’s right about now that the size of the crowd becomes irrelevant. Everybody here knows the words and, almost to a man, when Ballew leaves lines unsung for some audience participation they obliged whole heartedly. ‘Kitty’ gives them the chance to shout out a few obscenities before ‘Lunatic to Love’ moves through the gears bringing the room, if not to the boil, to a friendly simmer. In between songs the band keep the general feeling of good cheer fully stocked, following the final notes of various songs with a quick “Spank you, spank you very much!”
They are polished in an unpolished way – clearly enjoying what they are doing – and are happy with their standing as the sort of band that people could forget completely for months or even years, but then remember all the words as soon as somebody digs out one of their CDs and says “Hey! Remember this…?” They are still a fully functioning band though and as if to prove it they have a new album which they parade around the stage several times during the evening, each time following it with a new song. “She’s a Nurse” reminds you just how many words can be made to rhyme with the word “nurse” and makes it ok to use the line “I can’t infect her” over and over again. It takes me back to the first few times I heard any Presidents songs – the catchy hooks and funny lyrics wrapped in what is a perfectly decent rock song.
Old favourites ‘Boll Weevil’, ‘Lump’ and ‘Dune Buggy’ get arms in the air and feet off the ground – there’s not the intense air you often get at live shows, it’s more like you’re at a gig being put on by some friends you haven’t seen for a while – and they’re better than you remember. When they play the scrabble-winningly titled ‘You Gotta Love Everybody and Make Them Feel Good About Themselves’ it’s like you’re hearing the title track to the entire evening. It is one of the most pleasant and friendly gigs I’ve ever been to but at no point does it feel superficial or disengaging – against the backdrop of almost every other artist out there, The Presidents feel like genuinely good joke at a funeral.
Old favourites like ‘Back Porch’ get sizeable cheers and induce much bouncing around in the audience (although it is bouncing around that is stunted by giggling bemusement when the mid-section becomes a “zip-tear-stick” homage to Duct Tape) Bounding on after that, the high octane ‘Mach 5’ (pun fully intended) injects still more energy into the room, ridding it of any residual chilliness and paving the way for the band’s biggest hit, ‘Peaches’ – cue some vigorous pogoing and punching the air.
There is a token departure from the stage before the smiley, happy threesome return to give us buoyant versions of ‘Body’ and finally ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ which has a few final bars of ‘Kick Out the Jams’ bolted onto it, providing an element of symmetry to a the grandest finale a show like this could muster.
We’ve enjoyed it, they’ve enjoyed it; we rocked, they rocked; we’re smiling and they are smiling and for the briefest of moments the world was a better place because The Presidents of the United States of America loved everybody and made them feel good about themselves.